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Practical Jack by James Dodds

Updated: May 4


Long ago, when magic was like applesauce—delightful, but nothing out of the ordinary—a farm boy named Jack eked out a meager existence on his hardscrabble farm. Rocks defied his attempts to plow and plant and the rains ignored him. Although Jack toiled from dawn to dusk to feed himself and his dear old mother, not a word of complaint left his lips. A practical person, Jack didn’t waste breath on complaining that could be better spent on laboring.


One cold morning, Jack awoke to find the cupboard was bare. He had no choice but to take their cow to market. There, mere steps from the butcher’s stall, with its promise of coins for food, Jack spied a curious sign: “Second-Hand Magic.” Against his better judgment, he sidled up to the booth. Five minutes of slick talking later, he found himself trading the cow for a fancy pair of boots. “Seven Yard Boots,” the vendor proudly proclaimed.


“Don’t you mean Seven League Boots?” asked Jack.


“No lad. These are second-hand. Seven yards is as far as they go. But think how practical that is! With Seven League Boots, you travel twenty-one miles with each step. Who knows where you’ll end up! But at twenty-one feet per step, these handy helpers make short work of rounding up strays, bringing in a crop, or chasing varmints. And if you act now, I’ll include this once-in-a-lifetime offer of Maerlin’s Magic Seeds. Plant just one to feed a family, two to feed everyone you know and three to feed a village.”


Jack rolled his eyes. Magic boots were commonplace. But magic seeds? I wasn’t born yesterday, he thought. “Sure, friend,” he said as he tucked the packet into his pouch.


The chickens’ anxious cackling announced Jack’s arrival. His mother looked up from sweeping the stoop to see a roiling cloud of dust barreling straight for the farmhouse. “A dust devil!” she gasped. Before she could shoo the hens to safety, Jack stood grinning in front of her.


“I’m home!”


His mother’s eyes narrowed as she took in his new boots. “You traded our cow for these... toys?” Jack’s face fell as she spun on her heel and stalked off.


“Not toys,” he said, following her. “Tools. For the farm.”


“Hah!” she snorted. “I thought you had more sense!”


Jack danced around in front of his mother, pulling the seed packet from his pouch. “But I got these seeds too,” he said, waving them under her nose.

“They’re...”


“Magic seeds?” she sneered. “Pah!” She slapped his hand away and stomped into the farmhouse. The packet tumbled through the air, spilling seeds to the ground. Jack scuffed at them with a boot heel.


“Probably not,” he muttered.


Supper that evening was a single turnip. As Jack ate, alone at the table, a cold rain began to fall.


Thick fog shrouded Jack’s farm as the sun rose. As he peered through the gloom, a light breeze stirred the mist, revealing monstrous shapes. Jack rubbed his eyes as he edged up to the closest one. A ray of sunshine broke through the murk, revealing a vast orange globe. “It’s a pumpkin,” he breathed. “The size of a haystack.”


As the fog lifted with the rising sun, the truth in the magic vendor’s words shone forth. Gigantic pumpkins crowded corn stalks towering forty feet high. Lettuce heads ten feet across fought celery stalks with trunks like oaks for growing room. But the most magnificent vegetable of all was the beanstalk, rising so high Jack couldn’t see the top. As he craned his neck upwards, the stalk quivered. “Something up there is tugging at it,” he said. “I intend to find out what.”


Without further thought, Jack began to climb. The leaves and tendrils made for an easy ascent and the farm below soon dwindled from sight. Jack stopped to rest. Looking up, he saw the beanstalk vanish into a layer of clouds. As he pondered this, a low buzzing reached his ears. On the tendril just above his head crouched a bee the size of Jack’s fist. On her head sat a small golden crown. The bee regarded Jack, then raised a foreleg in greeting.

Jack tipped his cap. “You are the queen bee?” She nodded. “Well met, your highness. You had to investigate this green monster too, didn’t you?”


The queen quivered her wings, buzzing out, “Yes,” then “Danger.” She lay flat on the tendril, her abdomen heaving as she gasped for breath.


“I’m pretty winded too,” said Jack. “But we’re almost there. Won’t you ride in my pouch the rest of the way?” He held out his hand. With a happy buzz, the bee crawled onto his palm. Jack tucked her in a secure corner of his bag and resumed climbing.


Curiosity drove Jack upwards. Soon he entered a mist, thick, cold and clammy. His world shrunk to his hands, his feet and their purchase on the now-slippery beanstalk. Jack slowed. It wouldn’t do to fall now, he thought. I don’t have enough breath to scream all the way down. Eventually, a glowing area appeared overhead. Jack climbed into the light and found himself in a wondrous new land.


Solid ground stretched away in all directions. Everything looked the same as below, except ten times larger. Flowers as high as Jack’s head, trees that towered into the sky. And half a league away, looming like a fortress that held a thousand men, a castle, with a stout oaken door fifty feet tall.


 “No man my size lives in that castle.” His heart pounding, Jack leapt to the ground and tiptoed toward the castle.


He was nearly there when the door flew open and out burst a two-headed giant. The monster was on him in three steps. One head was terrifying—a rough beard and lank, greasy locks falling over wild, bulging eyes. The other was clean-shaven with cropped hair. That one smiled at Jack. “Well, little man,” he began, when he was interrupted.


“FEE! FI! FO!” bellowed the greasy one and then he paused, brows furrowed. “Uh, FEE, FI, FO… FO.…” He looked to his other head with a hopeful expression. “Fee, Fi, Fo?” he asked.


“It’s Fum,” replied the other head patiently. “But we don’t do that anymore. Nobody does.”


“Then stewpot!” shouted greasy head. He ground his few teeth.


“Of course, brother. But first, the challenge.” He smiled again at Jack. “Well, little man, you’ve come for my treasure. It’s yours, if you win the challenge.”


Jack drew himself up. “And what would that be, Sir Giant?”


“Why, anything you like. Arm-wrestling, for example.”


Jack shook his head. “I’m afraid that would be too easy for me.”


Clean-shaven head laughed. “You’re funny, little man,” he said. “I hope you taste as nice as you talk.”


Greasy head scratched his ear, frowning, then brightened. “I know! The riddle game! I’ll go first. What has hands, a face and tells time like a clock?”


Clean-shaven sighed and shook his head. “No brother, that’s not your best game. Let our dinner come up with the challenge.”


At that moment, the queen bee stirred. Jack snapped his fingers and said, “How about a rock throwing contest?”


“Agreed,” said the giant, grinning. He picked up a small boulder and heaved it clear over the castle. “Beat that, little man!”


Jack pulled the queen out of his pouch, pulled back his arm and let fly. And fly the bee did! Straight up and out of sight. “I win!” he shouted.


Greasy head snarled, while the other laughed. “Sorry, but no. New challenge—a squeezing contest!” The giant lunged forward, hands outstretched. Jack clicked his heels, triggering his boots, and leapt out of the way.


“Wrong! A footrace!” he yelled, and dashed off towards the castle. Leaving the bellowing giant behind, Jack was inside in a trice. “Now, where would that treasure be?” he muttered as he raced towards a grand staircase.


“Yoo hoo!” came the answer. “I’m up here! Hurry!” Jack took the stairs and followed the voice to a room containing a table and a small cage. On the table sat a harp. In the cage paced a large hen.


“Here I am!” sang the harp. “Free me from this giant. I shall play and sing for you!” But Jack only had eyes for the hen.


“Be practical. What good is a singing harp?” he said. “You can’t plow, plant, or reap. You just make noise. This magnificent hen, though...” Jack broke off as the giant’s roar echoed through the castle. He stuffed the hen in his pouch and made for the stairs.


“Take me too!” cried the harp. Jack paused, then grabbed it.


The giant saw Jack clutching his harp. “Mine!” he bellowed and pounded up the stairs, roaring with rage.


“Fine!” Jack shouted. “Catch it, then!” He flung the harp high over the giant’s head. Strings twanged as the harp screeched. The two-headed behemoth reared up to grab it and fell backwards, tumbling down the staircase.


Jack slid down the banister, past the groaning giant and sobbing harp, and sped away to the beanstalk. Halfway to the bottom, the massive vine bucked like a mule. The giant had leapt onto the stalk. Jack flew into the air and dropped like a stone, the beanstalk just out of reach. A roar filled his ears. Rushing wind—the last thing I’ll ever hear. The wind became a deafening buzz as thousands of bees latched onto his clothing and flew him back to the beanstalk. Jack clung for his life, heart pounding out of his chest.


Above, the giant slid down the stalk at breakneck speed. He’s coming too fast, thought Jack. I’ll never make it. The queen bee and her subjects left Jack and swarmed up to attack both heads, viciously buzzing and stinging. The giant fought back with both hands—a fatal mistake. He hurtled earthward, trailing a long howl of rage and terror.


Jack’s mother rejoiced as he clambered off the beanstalk. Jack grinned. “I’ve been to the sky and brought back a fine hen, courtesy of our large friend.” He plucked her from his pouch and set her down. “Based on her size, we should get magnificent eggs!” The hen scratched about for a bit, then began clucking. Moments later, she laid an enormous egg. Jack whooped, then frowned. “What’s this?” he cried. He examined the fresh egg, lips curled in disgust.


“It’s gold,” came a voice from behind them. They turned to behold a shimmering being alighting on the ground. “That’s the hen that lays golden eggs—the most important magic treasure in the kingdom. It belonged to my fairy sisterhood. I’ve come to bargain for it.”


Jack picked up the hen and thrust it at the fairy. “It’s yours. I’ve got no use for a hen that lays eggs I can’t eat.”


“But it’s...” began the fairy.


“Gold. Yes, I heard you. Men kill for it. I have no wish to die defending something I never wanted in the first place. Take it.”


“You’re a practical man,” the fairy observed. “Unusual for your kind.” She glanced around, her eyes lighting on the giant pumpkin. “Fine. But I must reward you somehow. Rules, you know. Give me that pumpkin and I’ll bless your farm with good soil and abundant water from this day forth.”


“What do you want with an oversized pumpkin?” Jack asked.


The fairy giggled and twirled her wand, sending sparkles everywhere. “My goddaughter needs a ride to the ball tonight.”


“In a pumpkin?” Jack snorted. “How grand. What will she be wearing? A corn husk dress and potato-skin shoes?”


“Oh no!” tittered the fairy. “Her gown will be crystallized stardust—dazzling! And her shoes? Why glass slippers, of course!”


Jack laughed. “Take your pumpkin and enjoy the ball.” The fairy curtsied, then she, the hen and the pumpkin vanished.


“Glass slippers,” Jack muttered. “How impractical.” Then, taking in the bumper crop around him, he said, “Come mother. It’s harvest time.”



James Dodds is a recovering technical writer. More recently, he has gotten serious about writing fiction. His short fiction has appeared in The AvenueEnchanted ConversationFairy Tale Magazine and Flame Tree Press, among other publications. He is a co-author of American Roulette, a novel.


Image of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” by Jessie Wilcox Smith.

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